Archives for category: Ageing

The only mention made of death in our society is usually through the old saying that taxes and death are the only two certainties in life. The rest of the time it seems to be a taboo subject. The only certainty about it is that it will happen, yet for most of us the how, where and when are not only complete uncertainties but not discussed.

I’m trying to work out how long I will last, given my current age, life expectancy for my age group and restrictions such as chronic illness. This sounds really potent yet seems to be the medical name for diabetes and other common diseases which affect life expectancy. I felt really doomed when I first heard the expression, but life has gone back to normal since then!

For older people it probably makes life a bit easier if we can work out a rough, probably inaccurate time limit. It gives us a bit of a time-line for things we would like to achieve before then, such as tidying up and sorting through possessions (called rather cutely ‘downsizing’!). It doesn’t seem to work for me, having recently passed on a whole lot of books I knew I would never read to charity, then restocking with other books I thought I might read!

The other uncertainties we face are the how  and where. Most people say they would like to die at home but few do. I suspect that this could be caused by medicos trying to use their new devises and medications on us when we would prefer to just quietly leave this world.

The big problem is the current discussion we are currently having in Australia about being allowed to do have a hand in our death and allow us to advance it when medication is not currently available to so painlessly. Euthanasia has almost been a taboo topic and is often described as murder. There are quite a few countries intelligent enough to allow it under very strict conditions and it seems to work well, with the conditions imposed preventing abuse. The opponents to this practise seem to base their objections on reasoning which is not based on intelligence and knowledge. These are often the same people who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. The problem is that although their ranks are being reduced because more people are applying reason and logic to arguments, based on modern knowledge, these groups still have a traditional influence which they inflict on all of us.

If people oppose those of us who want to be able to die to escape excruciating pain, why should this minority be allowed to dictate what we choose to do? If I still looked at the world through religious eyes I suspect I would think that if God hadn’t yet released to us the knowledge to reduce all pain to a bearable level, then why shouldn’t we use the God-given knowledge we already have to choose to end our suffering? How heartless are these people if they are prepared to force their own families to have to watch them suffer needlessly, often for weeks and months? Not my idea of a Christian, loving world in which we really care about those we love, as well as our neighbours, in its full definition.

Dying would be less of a worrying uncertainty if people didn’t have to face the possibility of unrelieved excruciating pain accompanying it. Lets at least make this a certainty.

This week I listened to a discussion about a new report on the adequacy of the pension in Australia. It is a very complex problem which is probably why it is a rarely tackled. The last attempt I am aware of was by a university researcher who ended up having to make so many assumptions the end result wasn’t really meaningful. This time the authors set themselves plenty of time and enlisted the help of a number of organisations involved with the elderly, such as the Council for the Ageing (COTA). The main value of the exercise to me was the inclusion of someone with many years of experience with ageing groups and is himself celebrating his 85th year this year. He was a member  of a three person panel speaking about the issue. It was a refreshing change to see a panel not just discussing an age related  topic but with one member actively, personally involved. They were not just studying the ageing but involved with us. It took away the weakness of so many discussions on ageing which talk about us, not with us.

So what emerged from the study? As expected it is a particularly complex issue but some problems cropped up frequently, particularly the topic of good dental health. Not having the money to pay for dental treatment leads to older people having to mash their food as their teeth are too painful for them to chew, or are none existent due to the expense of dentures. To me, this should be a separate issue. We have a free health system in Australia so I can’t see why this can’t be extended to dental health. The other issue which was not raised was the health costs of not taking action. If people are unable to eat properly for whatever reason, including inadequate money for food, then their general health will suffer, a situation which the health system will have to cover, particularly if they end up in the hospital system.

Another major issue was that of the family home not being included in a person’s assets. This problem arises when someone has lived in the family home for decades and its value has risen greatly. The person may not want to leave because, for example, it holds many memories. They also may feel that this is a legacy to leave their children who may be looking forward to it. The problem arises when maintenance costs rise and the older person is obliged to pay out of their pension. They may be left to live in poverty in a hugely valuable home.

These are among the many complex issues the study group looked at. There is obviously much discussion on the issue ahead. At least it is good to know that future talks will be held with older people. not just about us.

I liked the suggestion that the issue of the value of the pension be set by an independent body. The politicians’ response that the country couldn’t afford it was met by ‘but that’s how your salary’s are set”!

Those are just some of our problems in Australia.  What about those countries which don’t have any pension?

 

This is a question all countries in the world should be asking themselves. As health measures and research improve, the increasing life expectancy in most countries lead to improving health, and therefore increasing numbers of older people, although the definition of ‘old’ varies.

I don’t think that I could name even one country in the world in which this question has even been asked, let alone successfully answered. The solution to the question of ageing populations seems to be to give them a pension if the country can afford it, otherwise leave them to the generosity of relatives which, if lacking, may involve begging on the streets.

Even in more advanced societies the question doesn’t get asked properly, but as standards rise, and with it the cost of living (and pensions), the only questions which are asked is how to pay for increasing pensions and accommodation for older people. In Australia we appointed a senior politician to look at ageing, particularly at this cost problem. She was apparently appointed for her years of service as a politician, not for her knowledge of ageing and the research done (by younger people) on it. Accordingly after years in the role her major suggestion was that employers be encouraged to enable older workers to stay in the workforce. This didn’t seem to be a very useful suggestion given that research shows that older people take the retirement option as soon as they can because they are bored at work, and feel that their talents aren’t utilised. They are hardly likely to want to continue in that situation no matter what their employers offer in the way of flexible hours etc.

The nearest I have come to finding a solution to this ‘unfulfilled’ attitude to work is through the seniorpreneurs movement which seems to get no government support or backing. In Australia and similar countries we have the most experienced and knowledgeable section of the population put out on the streets as it were in terms of employment and ideas. Our only support is the pension which merely maintains them and makes no use of what this group has to offer in terms of knowledge and experience. Everyone suffers, including the older people who on retirement may face up to 40 years of minimum, if any, contribution to society. This does no-one any good including the well-being of either the employers. older people or society.

These thoughts arose when I read the story of a 102 year old researcher at one of Australia’s  universities who has been asked to leave as apparently they were concerned about his safety. No weight was given to the large number of awards he has earned over his lifetime in a number of areas, and the extra amount of knowledge his work has given the world and the University. What disgusted me was that no-one at the University apparently had the brains to think of a better solution! This doesn’t help the University’s reputation nor its current staff. I suppose that none of them even had the guts to shoot him which would have been a better solution than the long, slow, unpleasant decline which is likely to follow this decision. Do they care?

Does any country which doesn’t really provide for its older citizens in terms of what they still have to offer, and enjoy offering, particularly in terms of self-esteem, either care or have the brains to solve? Meanwhile ageism prospers, just like racism and sexism. All three hinder prosperity for society and the world’s survival.

 

It is about 10 years now since I first became interested in ageing yet I still come across areas I haven’t yet investigated. Recently I was invited to join a group of people investigating homelessness in the city where I live. It was the first time I had considered the plight of older people for whom everything has collapsed.

I had previously heard a talk by someone from a large city in Australia who was describing his involvement in building a group of units for homeless older people. The units were fairly small but big enough to satisfy the needs of those living there and were extremely sensitive to the needs of their new inhabitants. For example, each unit had a balcony attached to it. The balconies overlooked a walkway which enabled the residents to choose to sit outside and chat to people out for a walk (and get some beneficial fresh air), or stay inside if they wanted to be alone. One lady commented that it was the first time in her life she had a key to her own place. She was thrilled! It occurred to me that what she was actually saying was  that this was the first time in her life that she, and her possessions, were safe. A sobering reminder of the constant danger the homeless are faced with.

The group’s research of course will involve those who don’t have that security. It must be a frightening situation for anyone but for older people, aware of their frailty and their vulnerability to illness or violence, it must be even more difficult. The problem is that homeless people tend to hide themselves away from public view for safety so that the only way we can be aware of them is through the wonderful people who go looking for them. These people are among the angels of this world. Those they look for are most likely to be dirty and smelly, out of necessity, yet these angels look beyond that and offer them help. I assume that this is a problem which exists throughout the world, with the size of the problem depending very much on the number of people who go looking for them and are enabled to offer them help. This help currently cannot always be in the form of shelter, food and necessary medications, due to financial restrictions.

So what is this new group I recently joined hoping to do about it? Firstly we need to know how big the problem is and we need to contact those with knowledge in this field to get this information. The next step is to make people living in our city  aware of the problem. I suspect that many, hopefully most, will be prepared to lobby their politicians to provide the money to address the problem. With an election a few months away this is an ideal time to be highlighting the problem.

Will a solution to this problem through provision of low cost shelter and access to health professionals be the answer to the problem and nothing more? I suspect not. It is easy to dismiss the homeless as no hopers but I suspect that this is not always the case. I suspect that we will find that many of them will be in this situation through no fault of their own, bowed down by numerous disasters in their lives. We could end up as the beneficiaries of solving the problem if those assisted are enabled to lead useful and rewarding lives. At least those who are assisted will have the opportunity to live better lives. Well worth researching the problem and solving it.

 

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching a Webinar of a meeting of a group of Australian Aboriginal people, hearing the views of young and old, male and female. All of them are achievers, all of them have suffered as Aboriginal people who are treated as second class citizens in their country. Importantly the whole event was convened by Aboriginal people. It did strike me as a sharp contrast to the conferences I attend on ageing, which are organised by younger people, the speakers are largely younger people, as are the attendees. One day hopefully all groups who are treated as second class people will have their voices heard at a national level, although I suspect it will not happen in my lifetime.

Yesterday’s Webinar happened not long after a respected TV show had exposed the unintelligent, and cruel, treatment of Aboriginal youngsters in a state-run detention facility. The cruelty of those involved, from ministers responsible for overseeing it, to administers responsible for running it, to staff involved in handling the inmates, was unbelievable. Australia was shocked. Many years ago an investigation had been undertaken into the fact that Aboriginals end up in prison far more frequently than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Since then the situation has worsened. I think, and hope, last week’s report is more likely to be effective because it had visual footage of the situation and therefore reached more people.

What struck me about yesterday’s Webinar was the lack of the ‘blame game’. The speakers were all being positive about what needs to be done, looking forward, not backward. They had very intelligent suggestions about the future, without blame or finger-pointing. These were the views of highly intelligent people, keen to look forward, not backwards.

If only those running this country, and I suspect the same applies in most other countries, would listen to such groups. The current situation leads to a lack of respect for parliamentarians, and one has only to look at current and past members of Parliament to realise the low standard required to be elected, for an answer to the current situation to be obvious. The behaviour of those , including those involved in positions of authority, particularly in places such as the juvenile detention centres, is often inexcusable. One way to overcome this is to expect and demand a high level of behaviour of all those whose salaries are paid by governments.

Meanwhile the Aboriginals I had the privilege of listening to yesterday, struggle to have their voices heard. We need to create an environment in which those who struggle to create a better world for all are given the respect they deserve and their voices are heard, particularly when they speak on behalf of those groups whose talents are frequently overlooked, from young to old. Think of the rich, in all meanings of that word, world it would create.

May those who are speaking up continue their fight until we have the better world they are fighting for. One day it will happen, I hope.

Tomorrow I set off to eventually participate in the International Federation of Ageing 2016 conference in Brisbane (I am having a small deviation to Toowoomba first to catch up on a friend I’ve had for nearly 50 years). To me the conference is a special event as this is perhaps one of a few, if not the only, international conference on ageing which encourages older people to have our voices heard. Most conferences on this topic have registration fees for employees, with reduced ones for students but not for retirees who are the real experts in the field. If retirees are rich enough to afford to attend (which most are not, when you add transport and accommodation costs) only then are they are allowed to attend! I have recently pointed this out to the officials of two conferences on the topic of ageing but I got no reply. One can only guess why they won’t enable older people to attend and why they refuse to respond to a question about it!

These organisations not only put societies decades behind where we should be in terms of benefitting from having ageing populations but they stubbornly stick to their policies. It’s hard to determine where this will take us. We still stick to treating women as second class citizens but we are moving slowly forward in seeing the disadvantages of this. Unfortunately in terms of ageing we are still where we were with women 100 years ago. Not only do the targets of these policies suffer from them but so do the countries that practice them.

In my next blog I’ll report on how the conference went, and the extent to which older people contributed, and were encouraged to do so. Those are the two criteria for judging the success of conferences on ageing.

This week, in a country to Australia’s north, students set off, unarmed they claim, to march to their Prime Minister’s office to protest against his alleged rorts, believing he is setting aside, inappropriately, money for his own personal use. The result was police firing on the students, with at least one in hospital and others too frightened to seek treatment. There are no reports of any police being hurt, certainly not shot. The political reaction has been just as bad with parliament suspended for many weeks, presumably so that no awkward questions can be asked, not only about what happened with the students but also about their allegations. Is this democracy and if not, why not?

The situation in the USA is equally inexplicable. How can a man whose only claim to achievement seems to be the ability to collect money off other people have the distinct possibility of becoming the next President? It seems that in the USA the present incumbent of the position is the only non-rich person who has made it to that office. The other current alternative candidate herself fits the rich bill.

In Australia the incumbent prime Minister has the same qualification, that of being able to collect money off others and thus become rich. He had a lot of ability when younger but hasn’t found it necessary to formally upgrade his knowledge base for nearly 40 years, in spite of the massive increase in knowledge in the world.

New technology, and other new knowledge, is rapidly changing our world but our leaders seem to feel it unnecessary to keep themselves up to date and we as electors seem to feel that the only criteria for leadership is the ability to collect money from others. If we look at the messy world around us it seems to be true that people get what they deserve when they vote yet there are so many others striving to create a better world in an infinite number of fields.

There is at least one movement in Australia trying to choose our representatives in a way that more accurately reflects what ordinary voters, and hence the majority of people want. I suspect that means a fair go for all and settling disputes through conversation, not useless violence followed by conversation. After all, it is ordinary people who suffer the violence and aftermath of it. The current refugees are testament to this.

Meanwhile the pot of gold at the end of this story continues to be overlooked. The enormous wealth of knowledge, information, experience and ideas locked up in older people continues to be dismissed as a burden, with older people regarded as second class, dependent citizens. I only hope that those who come after the present generation of leaders will have learned more from their education and recognise the knowledge, expertise and value, not burden, of older people. Then we can have the sort of world ordinary citizens, including older people, really want.

 

The other evening I watched a discussion on television amongst prominent Australians who are pushing for more equality in society. The panel included a former chief of the army who highlighted the fight against discrimination against women in the army, a sex discrimination officer, a barrister who is campaigning against capital punishment and a young man who has set up a van with a washing machine in it and drives around offering to wash the clothes of the homeless. The level of conversation and caring was extremely high and it was a good representation of how we should be caring for the voiceless. It also reminded viewers that discussion is often also at a mundane level, such as whether using the term ‘guys’ for a group of people is sexist.

I’m raising this because although the discussion was largely about discrimination there was no mention of ageism and its accompanying discrimination against older people. We are still invisible.

This happened at a time when the International Federation for Gerontology and Geriatrics is organising a conference next year in San Francisco on ageing. They only have two registration prices, one for general participants and a discount price for students, no discount for retirees. I wrote to suggest that this means that they will be having a conference on ageing without the ageing, which would make it less accurate, but got no response. When will we wake up to the fact that older people can be valuable members of the community and our voices should be welcome, including at conferences on ageing (the real experts on this particular topic). When that happens the organisers of  this conference will look somewhat silly, and professionally inept and inaccurate.

I suppose my frustration parallels that of the suffragettes who also had to campaign for many decades for recognition of women’s rights and capabilities. You would think we would have learned from that fight but apparently not. The trouble is that ignoring all that older people have to offer is a costly error both for the country, the world and for older people as well.

I hope that there is an after life otherwise I suspect I will miss the opportunity to look down on television discussions and conferences in which older people take an equal place amongst other groups in society. I’m giving up hope of it happening in my lifetime!

This is a strange time to be one of the elders of the world.  In developed countries in particular we haven’t yet come to terms with our ageing populations. We are adopting a ‘more of the same’ approach from the past which isn’t working  either for us older people or the communities we live in. I am under the impression that developing countries are starting to encounter the same problems.

Personally, in Australia which prides itself on being a multicultural society, I find myself facing very different situations. Twice recently I have found myself dealing with two people from very different non-Australian backgrounds. One decided that as a little old lady I could be bullied and she tried this approach. Needless to say it didn’t work- she had underestimated me! The other person, from a very different background, seemed to think that as an older person I might have an interesting story. We had a great conversation as we shared ideas. This second approach is the way to go and has more positive consequences. Our strength is in sharing intergenerational ideas, no matter what our background is.

Meanwhile those in power seem blinded by the idea that we older people are merely a cost and therefore a burden. All they can see is a generation which is adding to costs and will continue to do so as our numbers grow. I wonder how long it will be before our leaders see the older generation as an asset, with ideas based on historical development, not the here and now approach currently in play. We also need to realise that not all ideas are costly and need loads of resources. I will forever have in my mind the photo of the Indian mother and daughter who realised that if you slant the lines at the front of a zebra crossing it will look 3D and therefore slow traffic down. A simple, cheap idea which can save lives across the world. Why can’t all older people be encouraged to think differently and come up with such ideas, rather than merely being dismissed as an economic burden?

It’s not all bad news. Warrigal Care, which runs aged care facilities, from independent living to palliative care, on several sites in one Australian state is planning to celebrate ‘Go Grey in May’ and ‘the contributions older people make to our lives’ by having a photographic exhibition. I would like to think that this attitude is one everyone will have towards older people in the future.

 

This week, for the second week in a row, I have visited a small country town in Australia. This time it was Dubbo, a small inland town with about 36622 residents and a catchment area of 130000. It is a farming community although currently they are in the midst of a prolonged drought. The drive there makes you aware of why it is currently called a dust bowl- the landscape has a cloud of dust above it.

At one point I was trying to find the local shopping centre and asked directions of a lady who turned out to be a leading light in the town. She was going to the same place and we chatted as we walked there. Before we parted company she gave me an 8 page pamphlet, published by the local people, of all the events in town they were organising. There were about 30 listed, from gardening groups to writers, musicians, a historical society, arts and crafts, theatre, dining, to cooperation with the Sydney Opera House. What a vibrant community.

This made me realise how important local communities are and that this is the major problem with our cities. I am not sure what city planners are concerned with, I can only assume it is with roads and transport and housing siting and other non-human items. This lack of acknowledgement of the human needs of city dwellers is what makes them the disastrous places they usually are, particularly for older people.

My suggestion is that we design cities, and renovate them, in terms of smaller designated areas round a central hub, probably with local shops and some form of meeting place. It would be an area which allowed, and encouraged, all the activities currently Dubbo makes available to its citizens. It would be designed around humans, not merely convenient areas for the provision of water, electricity and other local governance responsibilities. If we put people first we will have much healthier and happier communities.

This is not a dream world idea although it will be difficult to implement initially, simply because it has always been a neglected area of city life and planning. When cities first developed they were created in the interests of the manufacturers who needed a large supply of workers for their factories. Workers were merely commodities. We have now evolved to the stage where workers are recognised as people who will work better and more creatively if they are treated properly. They will also be healthier and happier. We have centuries of catching up to do in our cities.

My final morning in Dubbo was surrounded by a cloud of female motorcyclists (and their partners). They were meeting at the local showground. If they could get 900 of them together it would be a world record. Apparently they held it 2 years ago but the Brits took it off them! What struck me was what a happy group they were, pleased to be together joining up with other bikies from across Australia. Needless to say this good news event didn’t hit the national news. After all, they were regarded merely females and bikies, not young women harmlessly enjoying themselves, passing on their pleasure and enjoyment of life to others.